Thursday, May 31, 2012

Danzig summons fellow ex-Misfit for Fillmore show

Equipped with a distinctive, heavy howl and the creative know-how to survive several musical incarnations, Glenn Danzig keeps busy for the sake of himself and society.

“I like working,” Danzig says. “I don’t like not working because then I’ll probably get in trouble.”

Certainly, nothing avoids trouble like leading a B-horror movie-loving, makeup-wearing punk band — which is where Danzig found himself in the late 1970s with the Misfits.

In 2011, Danzig celebrated his fire and brimstone-fueled career by debuting the Danzig Legacy shows. During these performances, he played mini-sets from his Misfits, Samhain and Danzig — his self-named — band eras. The shows featured both Samhain alumni and Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein, the towering guitarist who played alongside Danzig in the Misfits’ heyday.

On Monday, Danzig will resurrect some Misfits nostalgia when he performs with Doyle at The Fillmore Silver Spring. The show will consist of both Misfits tunes and the metal-infused sounds of Danzig.

The possibility of seeing the classic lineup of the Misfits Danzig, Doyle and bassist Jerry Only may be as dead as the zombies in their lyrics. When the group disbanded in the early 1980s, Danzig went on to form Samhain while Only and Doyle eventually created the short-lived Kryst the Conqueror. After a legal battle,  Only resurrected the Misfits in 1995 and tours to this day with a different lineup.

Doyle performed with the new Misfits before venturing out on his own with Gorgeous Frankenstein. Danzig says the two remain friends, even helping release Gorgeous Frankenstein’s first album.

“We just enjoy playing on the same stage,” Danzig says. “He’s a character, I’m a character.”

Doyle remains a towering presence when he performs. With his jagged guitar strapped to his chest, he refuses to play without his trademark skull makeup.

“I think he wears more makeup now than he used to. I don’t really remember him being that way,” Danzig says. “But it’s his thing. It works for him.”
Echoing his roots, Doyle still wears the Misfits’ famous haircut: the devilock. The style essentially pulls long hair forward into a spike that drapes the face. The last time Danzig rocked the devilock was in 1999 at a Samhain show. Although it has been more than a decade, he says he always has the option.

“I could pull my hair into it if I want,” Danzig says. “It’s there, it’s just slid back.”

In the studio, Danzig has been working on an album of covers. His first offering, “Devil’s Angels,” can be streamed on his website. The song is the theme to a 1967 biker movie of the same name. Danzig kept the tune’s original arrangement, but added a twist harkening back to his punk dispositions.

Switching guitars for violins, Danzig also is preparing his next classical album in the “Black Aria” series. He last channeled his inner Mozart in 2006 with the series’ second release.

“It’s just something I also like. I think there’s correlation between them,” Danzig says. “It’s definitely challenging to have all those different layers.”

After he finishes the third “Black Aria,” Danzig says he hopes to start recording his next Danzig album in the fall. However, his latest release, 2010’s “Deth Red Sabaoth,” may just be his last full-length entry.

“I think I’m not going to do full-length albums,” Danzig says. “I’m just going to do seven or eight song EPs and charge 10 bucks for them. I think one of the reasons people download stuff [illegally] is because people try to be greedy and jack prices up too high.”

After more than 30 years of blood, sweat and more blood even the wicked could use some rest.

“I think probably sometime in the future, near future, I’m going to take a break,” Danzig says. “Not always be on the road. I’m constantly working. I think... maybe just recharge.”

Photo courtesy Danzig

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Heavy Metal Stampede: Mastodon

Consider Mastodon the horticulturists of metal. For guitarist Bill Kelliher, crafting the Atlanta-based group’s latest album, “The Hunter,” was a swift, easy process.

“It just kind of came together really quickly in the studio,” Kelliher says. “You could kind of just see it growing everyday and someone would come in and add something. It was kind of like a shrub, we planted it from seed and every day someone would water it or fertilize it and you could see it growing into this magnificent — it was more like a weed growing into a beautiful tree.”

With catchy hooks on tracks such as “Curl of the Burl” and “Creature Lives,” the album continues Mastodon’s growth as a metal band looking for a groove instead of the frenetic chaos that defined earlier efforts.

Currently, Mastodon is on the road with Swedish prog-metalheads Opeth for the Heritage Hunter Tour. Before stopping at The Fillmore Silver Spring on May 9, Kelliher took time to chat with The Gazette about Opeth, punk rock and tacos.

A&E: You guys are touring with Opeth, who started a little bit earlier than Mastodon. Did you listen to them much?

Kelliher: I never really listened to them. I never really got into Opeth. I think I might have heard of them a little bit, but my tastes are kind of weird… I’m more your standard metal guy. I was more into Metallica and Slayer and that was pretty much it for metal. I was pretty close-minded. Not close-minded, but if it wasn’t as heavy as Slayer then I didn’t like it. If it wasn’t as pretty as Metallica, then I didn’t like it or didn’t get into it. I was more of a punk rock kid. I was into all the punk rock bands, I didn’t pay much attention, I guess.

A&E: Was it much of a jump for you to be in a metal band?

Kelliher: My first band was a punk rock band and I slowly started to play metal with other dudes, but we did punk covers. When I joined the band Today Is The Day, I just wanted to play music. I was starting to get older and I just wanted to be in a band that was working and doing stuff and I always tried to write thrash and metal in my own kind of way. So when Mastodon started, I already had a bunch of songs left over... Brann [Dailor, Mastodon’s drummer] and I started writing for Mastodon when Today Is The Day was on the way out. The stuff I was writing then, I played in a band with Brann before called Lethargy and that was super tech metal, straight up, like it was like death metal with a lot technicalities in it. I wasn’t 100 percent in love with it. I thought it was cool, but there wasn’t any room for expression. It was very robotic and very precise it had to be perfect, everything about it.

A&E: On Opeth’s latest album, they moved away from the growling, more intense vocals and that’s something Mastodon did a while back. Was that a conscious decision or just how the music evolved?

Kelliher: It’s really how the songwriting evolves, you know? We don’t really think, “Okay, with this record we’re going to start singing.” It just kind of happens to be that the riffs that we write kind of lend themselves to that kind of tonality in the vocals. When we first started writing, everything was really fast and kind of messy and loud and explosive so were the lyrics, and a lot of stuff has changed as the band grows and we mature and we start writing a little bit cleaner, I guess. To us, it’s the next step to just write a little more melodically... When we first started, nobody could really sing, so everyone was yelling and screaming into the microphone. And now we’ve been doing it for so long that it’s evolved. It’s just the natural progression of the band.
A&E: You guys covered Feist’s “A Commotion” for Record Store Day and she did the band’s “Black Tongue.” How was it working on that song?

Kelliher: It was easy. It was fun. We just kind of tuned our guitars real low and just tried to kind of follow what they were doing and just get the feel there and make it a Mastodon song kind of pick up what they were doing and strap on the broadswords, put on the heavy armor and the chain mail to it, attaching that slowly, the spikes and the bullet-belts and all that [expletive], I guess. I don’t know.

A&E: A Mastodon-Feist crossover just seemed unlikely, but you have done covers before.

Kelliher: This was definitely the furthest away from our natural habitat, but we’re just showing people that we’re not just a one-trick pony. We all have different musical tastes and pop music is one of them and great songwriting is great songwriting, whether it’s AC/DC or Slayer or it’s Feist or it’s The Pixies or it’s [expletive] the Dead Kennedys. Music is music, you can’t just say, ‘Well, I don’t like that [expletive] because it’s pop-rock or it’s soft or it’s folk art.’ It’s all relative.

A&E: I heard you recycled some riffs on “The Hunter” that you wrote years ago. What are some examples on the record?

Kelliher: The song “All The Heavy Lifting,” there’s a couple parts in that song toward the end that were riffs that were written for “Blood Mountain” that never really made it on the “Blood Mountain” record. They weren’t really recycled, but they came back into play. There’s a song called “The Ruiner,” which was left over from the “Crack the Skye” sessions that’s like a special edition song that’s on there. Also “Deathbound.” That song was leftover from the “Crack the Skye” sessions. It didn’t make it on that record, it just sounded too different.

A&E: I know that the Mastodon mask, which is on the cover of “The Hunter,” is out, but I was looking around on the merchandise page and saw the Mastodon taco luggage tags. Is there a story behind that?

Kelliher: We love tacos, man. Who doesn’t?

Photos by Cindy Frey

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Appearance from R.L. Stine promises to be a scream

“How do I make hamsters scary?”

These are the types of thoughts that occupy the mind of writer R.L. Stine, and with good reason.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Stine’s beloved children’s series, “Goosebumps,” boasts more than 100 titles. To dig into new ideas, Stine will start with the name of a book and then flesh out the story, which occasionally means asking some tough questions.

“I was walking the dog in the park and this title popped in my head, this ‘Goosebumps’ title, ‘Little Shop of Hamsters.’ Great title, right? I don’t know where it came from. … I’m just walking the dog and then I had to start thinking, ‘How do I make hamsters scary?’” Stine said.

Since the first book, 1992’s “Welcome to Dead House,” Stine and “Goosebumps” have become household names.

The series’ tone of campy creepiness was inspired by Stine’s diet growing up of “Tales from the Crypt” comic books, authors such as Ray Bradbury and episodes of “The Twilight Zone.”

“If you look at those comics from the ’50s, those horror comics, they’re a complete blend of horror and humor,” Stine said. “They all have funny twist endings and all kinds of plays on words and hidden things in the drawings and they’re a great combination, and it’s basically what I do.”

Today, Stine’s name can be found attached to more recent TV shows and book series, including “R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour” and “Rotten School,” respectively.

When he first began writing “Goosebumps,” it was a four-book deal that Stine said “sat on the shelves.” At the time, Stine’s credits included several books such as his “Fear Street” series and serving as head writer for the Nickelodeon show “Eureeka’s Castle.” Then, out of nowhere, “Goosebumps” came to life.

At its height, “Goosebumps” was selling 4 million books each month, and Stine said kids spreading the word to one another were to thank.

On April 21, Stine will take part in the Bethesda Literary Festival, crafting a ghost story with young fans, telling his own “true” ghost story, reading and signing books at Bethesda Elementary School. Running from April 20 to April 22 at various locations in Bethesda, the free festival also will feature authors such as Thomas L. Friedman, Judith Viorst and Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson.

Stine said children enjoy “Goosebumps” because the books promise “safe scares.”

“They know they’re going to have this creepy adventure. They’re going to go out and have fun and it’s going to be pretty scary,” Stine said. “But they know it’s never going to go too far.”

In the past, Stine has been careful walking the tightrope of child-friendly terror. In an early “Goosebumps” tale, “The Girl Who Cried Monster,” Stine was told by his editors that he might have raised a hair too many.

“When I first wrote the book, she sees a librarian eat a kid and she realizes he’s a monster [and] ‘I’ve got to tell people.’ But my editors felt that was going too far,” Stine said. “That was one case they thought that was too much, so we changed it. The librarian, in the final book, he’s got a bowl of live turtles on his desk and every once in a while she sees him reach over, pop a turtle into his mouth and crunch it and eat it.”

“Goosebumps” is a monster that refuses to die. Its current incarnation, “Goosebumps Hall of Horrors,” takes place inside HorrorLand, which Stine sees as the anti-Disney World.

The classic villains of “Goosebumps” can be found in the series before “Hall of Horrors” that bears the name of the evil theme park. The most famous villains also will be featured in the series “Goosebumps: Most Wanted” this fall. One of Stine’s favorite characters is Slappy the Dummy.

“Slappy the Dummy is really fun to write because he’s incredibly rude. You can write all these insult jokes and he’s just so mean,” Stine said. “He’s just a really fun character to write. You can go a little bit further with him, because he’s a dummy.”

Another favorite evildoer, The Haunted Mask, will be the subject of the series’ first hardcover “Goosebumps Wanted: The Haunted Mask,” which is scheduled to come out in July. Stine also keeps a haunted mask and fake skeleton in his office to help with his writing.

“I have a giant two-yard-long cockroach. Maybe not quite two yards, maybe four feet long. ... And I have a skeleton, and the skeleton is wearing The Haunted Mask,” Stine said. “I can see it every minute.”

In October, Stine will release an adult novel for the fans he attributes with his initial rise in the ’90s. Titled “Red Rain,” the book follows in the footsteps of Stine’s previous mature fare like “Superstitious,” and documents “extremely” evil children and their unsuspecting parents.

“It’s a real novel for adults. It’s very violent and it has sex; it’s not a book for kids. That was fun for me. It was a nice change of pace,” Stine said.

Although his first readers have aged, the things that go “bump” in the night have not.

“When we started writing ‘Goosebumps,’ people didn’t walk around with phones in their pockets and they weren’t online,” Stine said. “All the technology has changed, but your basic fears all the stuff that we write about in ‘Goosebumps,’ the basic fears of being afraid of the dark, being afraid that somebody’s lurking under your bed ready to grab you, something in the closet those things never change.”

Photo by Dan Nelken; courtesy Scholastic

Sunday, April 22, 2012

When “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” veterans Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood perform at theaters across the country, they require mousetraps, and lots of them.

“Rock ’n’ roll stars have ‘Remove the blue M&Ms,’” Mochrie says. “We have, ‘We need 100 mousetraps.’”

The mousetraps are for the duo’s infamous routine, where they cover the floor with the devices and proceed to play a game such as singing opera about mail while walking across them.

Mochrie and Sherwood will bring their “no pain, no gain” approach to improv to the Weinberg Center for the Arts on April 22. Prior to the weekend gig, Mochrie spoke with The Gazette over the phone from his home in Toronto about the show, his new book and his utter disdain for the “Whose Line” game hoedown.

A&E: After eight years, how have you seen the show change?

Mochrie: We were looking over some old running orders and we've had so many games that we no longer do. I felt old all of a sudden. Some of those games I never recognized. Most of the time we’ve spent on the tours trying to figure out how to get audience suggestions in a way that we won’t get the same thing over and over again. ... We’ve sort of invented new games over the years because there’s just the two of us, there’s sort of a limited number of games we can play. So we are constantly workshopping new games. Unfortunately, when we workshop it, we have to do it in front of an audience and hope it works. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t.

A&E: What are some of the newer games you're trying out?

Mochrie: You put me on the spot here. We’ll be doing sort of a new game where it’s sort of rap-based, where we start doing a scene and, at any point in the scene, if [one] person thinks what the other person said sounds like a rap song, we go, “Kick it,” and we start doing a rap song until somebody says “Word.”

A&E: So it’s not quite like [the “Whose Line” game] hoedown.

Mochrie: Oh, God no. Nothing’s like hoedown.
A&E: Has that followed you throughout your career?

Mochrie: I guess so. We often get suggestions for hoedown, which I can state with absolute assurance it will never happen. Ever.

A&E: What was the problem with hoedown?

Mochrie: Toward the end, when we finished taping “Whose Line,” we had been doing it, including the British version, for 14 years. So that was 14 years of hoedown and we would do two to three a taping. We would get a different suggestion for every hoedown. It was horrible. You’re trying to think of a joke you can have and then the person beside you would take that joke. Your minds are going along the same lines and then you’re just screwed. So it was the only time during the show that I felt pressure and was nervous. ... Although, Brad and I have found over the eight years we have been doing this, when the show works best it’s when we’re off balance. When we really ... just have so many different elements that we’re constantly trying to figure out what to do and where to go, and that’s sort of the fun part of improv, where it’s almost like Sudoku or a crossword puzzle. Where you’re using every part of your brain to try to figure out where to go next and wrap up what you’ve done.

A&E: Can it be a negative thing to be too comfortable in improv?

Mochrie: I think so. It certainly can. You can rest on your laurels, especially. You can get very lazy with improv. You can go, “Oh, your suggestion sort of sounds like something we’ve done before. We can head into this area because we know it gets a laugh.” So we definitely try to stay away from that.

A&E: I've read that you said after doing so many bits with Ryan Stiles on “Whose Line” that you started to feel like you were repeating yourself. Was that one of the reasons the show stopped? Because you guys felt like you hit a wall?

Mochrie: There were other reasons. It was sort of an odd show. The network never really knew what it was or how popular it was. When we first started as a summer replacement, we got great ratings and everything was fine and then they decided, because the show was so cheap, they put us up against “Friends” and “Survivor.” Totally killed us in the ratings, but we still made the network money because the show was so cheap to produce. Then a new regime came in at ABC ... [and the show] was canceled, although we were never actually told it was canceled. As far as I know, we're still on hiatus, but it has been eight years, so I’m willing to let that go.

A&E: Don’t think you'll be getting that call anytime soon.

Mochrie: I’m pretty sure not. Even though we got creamed, I'm still amazed how all of us are recognized everywhere from “Whose Line.” God bless it, it gave us all a really good career. so I’m certainly thankful for the show.

A&E: I have to ask you about the mousetraps. When did you start doing that?

Mochrie: I think we were doing it fairly close to the beginning of our tour. It’s a horrible game. We’ve tried to get rid of it, but people are upset when we don’t do it. Oh, OK. We begrudgingly keep it in our show.

A&E: Is it the most painful improv game you’ve ever heard of?

Mochrie: Yeah, we've both been hurt from that game. Yeah. It's a painful, painful game.
A&E: I don’t think I've heard of any other game of improv that involved so much physical pain.

Mochrie: No, because everybody else is smarter than we are.

A&E: How many mousetraps do you tend to have on stage?

Mochrie: It changes depending on venue to venue. ... It’s always at least 100.

A&E: I understand you have a book that is coming out this year, “Not Quite the Classics.”

Mochrie: Yes. Technically, that is correct. I’m supposed to have it finished by the end of this month.

A&E: How is the writing going?

Mochrie: It’s horrible. I have quickly found throughout this process that I despise writing.

A&E: What convinced you to write the book, then?

Mochrie: I was so roped into it. My agent said, “You know, you should write a book,” and I replied, “I don't feel like I have anything pressing to say.” He got me a literary agent who hooked me up with Penguin Canada, so I said, “Alright, I'm up for a challenge.” So I was trying to figure out a way of writing a book in sort of an improvised style, so ... what I came up with is I used the first and last line of classic novels and I do a completely different middle.

A&E: I know you were trying to write it with an improv mindset. Was there much revising?

Mochrie: Oh God, yeah. A lot of editing. If you actually transcribed our improv scenes, they make no sense. They’re not funny. They make absolutely no ... It truly is an art form where the comedy is of the moment. If you try to describe to friends an improv scene that you saw, it’s really hard to get that across why you were laughing. So as I was writing, I thought, “Oh the improv is sort of a jumping off point,” then it’s honing and editing.

A&E: Do you see a connection between improv and stream of consciousness writing, which is partly what I imagined you were doing with the book?

Mochrie: On stage your thing is you just accept what comes to you and you work from that, and I’ve sort of been doing that also with this. There have been a couple of stories where I get to a point where I can’t, I don’t know what to do, where to go from, so I just kind of relax and sort of go back to the beginning and try again and find a different path to get to the same end. There are similarities between the two, but making up stuff on stage is much easier.

Photo by Dan Bergman

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Road to Nilbog: George Hardy and 'Best Worst Movie'

In the hit movie department George Hardy is two for two, which is not shabby for a general dentist living in Alabama.

Yet the quality of the films is what sets them apart.

Hardy’s first film, 1990’s “Troll 2” follows the Waits family as their vacation to a remote town named Nilbog is derailed when its citizens turn out to be hungry, vegetarian goblins.

The shoot was plagued by its own horrors. Director Claudio Fragasso and his wife, screenwriter Rossella Drudi, were Italian filmmakers who spoke minimal English. Still, they required the lines be read by the film’s amateur actors word-for-word.

After filming in 1989, Hardy married and set up his dental practice in Alabama, where life went back to normal.

In the meantime, “Troll 2” became a cult classic, eventually earning the only zero percent score on the popular movie review site With its cheesy production value, oddball story and impressively horrible lines, the movie developed an ever- increasing fan base.

Catching wind of its popularity, Hardy and “Troll 2” co-star Michael Stephenson filmed the documentary “Best Worst Movie.” With Stephenson directing and Hardy acting as the movie’s guide, they hit eight countries and filmed 420 hours worth of footage beginning in 2006.

As curiously awful as “Troll 2” is, “Best Worst Movie” showed the colorful characters behind it, from Fragasso, who still sees the film as an important work, to the reclusive Margo Prey, who portrayed Hardy’s wife. “Best Worst Movie” currently holds a 95 percent Fresh rating on

Saturday’s back-to-back screening of “Best Worst Movie” and “Troll 2” at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring will also feature an appearance by Hardy, on-screen via Skype, who will introduce the documentary and participate in a post-screening discussion. In between appointments with patients, Hardy spoke with The Gazette about the movies, the fans and possible future of the franchise.
A&E: Was it a juggling act to film “Best Worst Movie” and maintain your practice?

Hardy: At the time it was. It really, really was. Believe it or not, I missed very little time from my practice because I would leave that on Thursdays and then Friday, Saturday, Sunday is when I would go to these events. So I did it all on the weekends. But ... over the course of three and a half years, [I] probably missed three or four weeks of work, which I would have done as vacation time anyway. We went to Italy twice, so that was cool to connect with Italians, which I’m now doing now with Rossella and Claudio. ... They’re working on a 3D film in Africa right now. And what’s cool is, we’re looking for production and the pulling together of “Troll 3D,” which she’s written a treatment [for], which is really cool. I’ve read it and it’s fantastic.

A&E: I was curious about what it was like on set. Was it very serious or were you guys having fun?

Hardy: Darren Ewing, who plays Arnold ... he says in “Best Worst Movie” we were really trying to make a really good movie. We really were. ... We were all amateur actors. None of us — I had only done high school plays and was a college cheerleader, you know... I’m not probably your normal dentist kind of guy, but I did always kind of want to go into acting ... And so we were really all trying hard to make a really good movie, but we didn’t know and it was so discombobulated, we just didn’t understand anything. We would try to decipher what the script meant and I would try to sit there and analyze scenes and couldn’t do it, and it was just like, ‘Oh well, what the heck, let’s just wing it and do the best we can.” And there was as a huge sense of innocence about that, because, you know, there was nothing really cynical about “Troll 2.” ... I think that it was miraculously made in the fact it delivers from scene to scene in how they edited it, the music and the campiness of it and the timing of it. I mean, the older “Troll 2” gets, the more popular it’s going to be. It’s one of those things that’s never going to go away. It’s a cult classic, it’s forever. And you take that film and you compare it to one that’s intentionally made to be bad like “Birdemic: [Shock and Terror]” or “The Room” and you see they were really trying to make a good movie.

A&E: Even in the film, Claudio seems so driven by his vision. He never seems to doubt himself for a moment. He totally believes in what he was doing.

Hardy: I really feel like “Troll 2” was this piece of work that was put on canvas as a treatment… that’s what I really love about Claudio and Rossella, either one, from the Italian or the European way of looking at things. They don’t really care what people think, they simply want to move people’s hearts and they want to entertain and they don’t care whether its good or bad. Take it or leave it. It’s simply like Claudio said. I really think he’s right about making an impression. And, I have to say, I really admire him for that and I really do think Claudio and Rossella are very creative people and they’re both very, very bright. And I wish I only spoke Italian so that I could really get to know who they really are, but it’s been kind of hard to understand them even with interpreters. But, I do know, there’s a beautiful sense of innocence with Rossella. She’s very lighthearted. And Claudio, he has a bit of an ego but he’s just a huge sweetheart. And every time I call, which has been a lot recently, he’s thrilled to talk to me. And I’m just not going to quit until “Troll 3D” is made. I just don’t know. Being a general dentist in Alabama, it’s pretty damn hard to make contacts in the west coast or New York. I don’t really know how that’s really done. I’m just trying to get feelers out there.

Photos courtesy George Hardy, AFI

Jack Hanna Goes Wild at the Weinberg

Life is a jungle for Jack Hanna. When he’s not traveling the world for his Emmy Award-winning program “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild,” he’s holding down duties as Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo in Ohio. Since first taking on the role in 1978, Hanna has become America’s go-to wildlife expert, and he can be seen regularly on television making rounds on talk shows, especially with his longtime friend David Letterman.

 For all his success, Hanna has also seen the grim realities that beleaguer the animal kingdom. Last year, he was called on by police in Zanesville, Ohio, where a man released several large and exotic animals from cages in his home before taking his life. With dangerous species such as lions and bears threatening to move into residential areas, the police killed 49 of the animals. While consulting police on site, Hanna and the
Columbus Zoo took the surviving animals back to their facilities.

Today, Hanna’s career has covered decades, continents and species. On March 17, he will host two performances at The Weinberg Center for the Arts, where he’ll show clips from throughout his career and introduce Frederick audiences to exotic animals.

A&E: What will you be doing when you come to the Weinberg?

Hanna: Anybody who’s three years old and up to 100 enjoys our shows. We’ve had mostly all sellouts the last three months. What we do is, we come there and sign autographs before the show. I talk to people about what they’d like to see. I do my show. We have some of my favorite clips from my shows from all over the world from the last 25 years. I show a six minute clip then I show some live animals, show another clip, live animals, another clip, live animal. That kind of thing. Some of the animals will probably be a cheetah, the world’s fastest land mammal, Siberian lynx, a sloth, flamingo, penguins, all kinds of stuff. I used to have three to four animals between each segment. We usually bring 14 to 16 animals.

A&E: Does your show have an overall message or theme?

Hanna: Basically, the theme is very simple: Touch the hearts to teach the mind. That’s my basic theme of the show. It’s a fast show by the way, there are no breaks. Hour and a half show with no breaks. It’s a fun show, but when you’ve left here you learn about the animal world and conservation and how you can help, what you can do. I tell some of my stories about what’s happened to me when I was filming around the world. All that kind of stuff.

A&E: The average person hears about conservation, but probably isn’t sure what they can do. What would you tell them?

Hanna: Typically the day to day person can go to the local zoological park. Visit them and they’ll have support organizations. For example, we have 44 projects around the world we support at the Columbus Zoo. ... They already have the people there working. They already have the computers, they already have the buildings. A lot of [the organizations] you give to, half the stuff goes to rent, half the stuff goes to salaries we already have people taking care of all this. When someone gives to our project ... 98 percent of their money goes to that animal or that project, and we talk about some of those projects through my videos. All my videos are very moving. None of them are graphic, but some will bring tears to your eyes when you hear stories about some of these animals that are rescued. That kind of thing. Then you see these people and [I ask], ‘How do you want to help this person in Africa?’ And I tell them how to do that. It’s stories about people as much as animals and people that dedicate their lives to animals is what the show’s about, as well.

A&E: How have you seen the roles of zoos change since you started?

Hanna: The role of the zoological park is going to increase, because ... last year 176 million people went to zoos in this country. The largest recreation in America was visitation to zoos and aquariums, [and that’s] including pro football, basketball, all of them. One hundred and seventy six million counted attendants. The roles of zoos are changing drastically versus 30 years ago when people didn’t even want to go to zoos. Zoos are an economic power for a community as well as one of the last hopes for some of these animals. Everybody gains from going to a zoo or an aquarium.
A&E: Have zoos shifted their focus to conservation?

Hanna: Last year, the zoos in this country gave $38 million to conservation in the wild. Thirty-eight million dollars they gave to conservation in the wild. It’s amazing.

A&E: How are the animals from Zanesville doing since you took them in?

Hanna: They’re doing good. We’re getting ready to pass one of the hardest bills in the country to make sure people don’t have pet lions and tigers in their backyards.

A&E: Would the legislation impact the markets that sold the animals?

Hanna: Let’s hope it does before someone gets killed. We’re trying to have people have responsible ownership where the animals live in not poor conditions. Like what happened in Zanesville. You don’t want that to ever happen again.

A&E: Great. Well I think that should cover all my bases, Jack.

Hanna: It was good to talk to you. Just make sure you come out to the show. But, again, the show’s going to be fun for everybody. I’m going to sign some autographs before the show and get to talk to everybody and the show is never the same, by the way.

A&E: What is the range of the stories you cover?

Hanna: I go back to when I started. Some of these videos are 30 years old. My blooper tape is. I got a David Letterman show in 1986 where he milked a goat. It’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen.

A&E: You and Dave have had a good relationship for a while now.

Hanna: I’m the longest-running guest on his show. Four or five times a year since 1985 so that’s almost good Lord, that’s 27 years or whatever.

A&E: Has there been an animal that has really surprised Dave?

Hanna: Not really. An ostrich had diarrhea on his show once. I’m just waiting to bring Bigfoot on there.

Photo by Rick A. Prebeg

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Guns N' Roses returns to The Jungle

In his 22 years with Guns N' Roses, keyboardist Dizzy Reed often is the overlooked observer in the band's headline-grabbing history.

Since joining GNR in 1990 during sessions for what would become the albums “Use Your Illusion I” and “Use Your Illusion II,” Reed has been privy to the inner workings of a band defined both by its arena-sized hits such as “November Rain” and ”Paradise City” as well as its rotating lineup, unpredictable live shows and enigmatic frontman Axl Rose.

When Guns N' Roses arrives at The Fillmore Silver Spring on Thursday night, it will continue what Reed describes as the “annex” of their first string of shows in five years in the United States.
In step with “the greatest band I've ever been in as far as lineup,” Reed spoke with The Gazette about the long-awaited 2008 album “Chinese Democracy,” GNR's future and its upcoming induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

A&E: Why did it take five years for the band to get to the states?

DR: That's a good question. I think logistically, I don't really know. I don't have much to do with that. I think at some point I probably said to myself, “Hey man, how come we haven't played the states?” I guess the timing wasn't right as far as production or whatnot. Maybe they weren't ready, I don't know. But I got to say this: I can't think of any show where the people weren't really appreciative and happy that we were there and getting into it and getting into the songs from “Chinese Democracy,” as well as the older songs and that's a great feeling for everybody.
A&E: Speaking of “Chinese Democracy,” that was the first time you received songwriting credits. How has your role in the band evolved over time?

DR: Since I came on, I think I've always added what I could creatively. I guess when “Use Your Illusions” was being recorded, all that stuff had already been written but I just added whatever I could creatively to make the songs better or, at least, in my opinion, make them better. You have to do something that adds to the song and nothing that takes away or clutters things up. There's a fine line. From the very beginning I've just been chucking ideas into the hat and some of them stick, so that's good. A lot of people think they can write songs and not everybody can. And I don't claim to be a great songwriter, but that's what I do when I'm not playing live. I work on songs and ... now everyone ... in their own right, is somewhat of an accomplished [songwriter]. Everyone's going to be adding ideas. Part of the process is sort of having the whole band sort of add to it if they can. That's what makes it a band makes it a band effort and at the end of the day, if you got a great song and Axl sings it, it's Guns N' Roses at that point to me.

A&E: Does Axl lead the charge when in the studio?

DR: For some songs, sure, but I know if we spend time and put together cool ideas and send it his way, and it's cool, he appreciates it. So some things go a little bit further, maybe. And some things don't, you know? Everyone brings things in, it just depends. At the end of the day, he's going to sing it, so it's got to flow the way he wants it to and the way he feels comfortable and the way he does put what he puts on it.

A&E: What was it like recording and working on “Chinese Democracy” compared to the 1993 covers album “The Spaghetti Incident?”?

DR: A lot of the basics for that record were actually tracked when we tracked “Use Your Illusions,” and then we added some things later and then sort of did overdubs and whatnot back in ‘93, I think, and put it out. And then shortly thereafter ... we started writing more songs and that was sort of the intro to the beginning of the intro to the writing of “Chinese Democracy.” So I don't think any other album would compare to the process that went into putting things together for “Chinese Democracy” for this band or any other band. It's funny you would mention that. That's the entire gamut right there as far as recording projects.

A&E: It just seems like “Chinese Democracy” was such a meticulous effort that took a long time.

DR: From a production standpoint, a lot went into it. There's orchestration, there's incredible programming and cool keyboard parts and lots of amazing guitar solos, whereas “Spaghetti Incident?” was pretty much a barebones band. It's funny, a lot of people forget about that record but I always thought it was pretty cool.

A&E: I heard you guys are working on new material.

DR: I keep hearing that, so I'm going to go along with that and say, “Yeah.”

A&E: Is that news to you?

DR: No, no. There's been talk. I know that [guitarist] DJ [Ashba] and Axl have been kicking back and forth some stuff and we talked about it a little bit, but I've heard that there's plans... to sit down at some point in time ...and start working some stuff up. So if that happens, great. I don't want to jinx it though.

A&E: The band is set to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. Do you feel like it has anything else left to prove?

DR: Myself, personally, I'm always going to feel like I have something to prove. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame certainly isn't the end of the line. I think it's a great thing. It's really cool for all the people who have supported the band over the years. And I try not to think about it because I don't want to get too freaked out, but just focus on the shows coming up. And when that day comes and gets closer, then I'll start thinking about it a little more.

Photos by Katarina Benzova

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Soul Singer Bettye LaVette Delivers Soul and Grit

Bettye LaVette is ingrained in the classics of soul music.

In 1962, at the age of 16, the young singer kicked off a promising career with her first single, “My Man He’s a Lovin’ Man.”

She was in good company. While making her way in Detroit, she lived across the street from Smokey Robinson, chummed it up with Otis Redding and loaned clothes to Aretha Franklin.

So, how was it working with these icons, she’s asked. What was it like, knowing the people before they became the faces of rhythm and blues?

For LaVette, now 66, they were just people.

“How did your 9th-grade classmates make you?” she shoots right back.

For LaVette, her overlap with such legends exists only because they also are musicians. The difference between LaVette and her contemporaries is obvious even on stage. Her show is not rife with over-the-top sensationalism. Often dressed in a simple black dress and backed by her band, LaVette allows her voice to be the centerpiece, the grit galvanized by the emotion she brings.

And in her demeanor, LaVette laughs often, speaks frankly and tells it like it is.

LaVette’s career did not follow the trajectory of those around her. After her initial takeoff, the album that was set to be her full-length debut was inexplicably canceled by Atlantic in the early ’70s. It was only in 1982, that she debuted in her own right with “Tell Me a Lie” on Motown.
Aside from a few recordings under Motor City Soul Records, LaVette’s career floundered, and she found herself performing regularly in Detroit.

But things changed for LaVette in the turn of the millennium. First, her original album was resurrected and released as “Souvenirs” in France under the Art & Soul label. In 2002, LaVette was invited to play at the birthday party of John Goddard, owner of Mill Valley Records. The party created inroads for LaVette and she inevitably wound up releasing the album “A Woman Like Me” in 2003 with Blue Express Records, before signing with ANTI- Records.

Since then, LaVette’s career has soared, reaching bigger and better heights as a recently unearthed gem from a classic era. Personal highlights include performing for the inaugural celebration of President Barack Obama, whom she says is as old as her career. The performance meant more to her than just a confirmation that she had arrived.

“It was wonderful,” LaVette says. “It was more for me than anybody else. I was the only person there besides Pete Seeger.”

Since 2000, Lavette has released several CDs, including “I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise” in 2005 and “The Scene of the Crime” in 2007; won awards; shared the stage with former Beatles and toured with former Zeppelins. A book about LaVette is also set to be published in the fall.

Working from others’ material, LaVette identifies her work as interpreting. Each piece is carefully worked through and given her own flavor.
Her last album, “Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook,” was released in 2010. Her newest, she says, will take on more modern sounds.

While adapting material, LaVette occasionally changes words if they don’t make sense to her. Feeling responsible for presenting these songs to her adult audience, she says there are no untouchables. Not even Led Zeppelin, whose “All My Love” received the LaVette treatment.

“I was fortunate enough to go on a short tour with Robert Plant last year and he said, ‘You changed the lyrics,’ and I said, ‘You have to make sense to adults who maybe weren’t high’,” she recalls with a laugh. “And he didn’t kick me off the tour.”

During the latter half of her career, while going from gig-to-gig in Detroit, the idea of quitting ran through her mind about “two hours every day.”

“I would have been stupid to just go along and keep laughing,” LaVette says. “There were absolutely hard days and those were the days when my cousin ... in Detroit would say, ‘Have another drink, hit this joint, you’ll be okay in a few minutes.’ And then somebody would call and I would be thrilled for 72 hours.”

Now, with a career as loud as her voice, LaVette may just have the last laugh.

Photo by Carol Friedman

Something to Dance About: Steve Aoki and Datsik at The Fillmore Silver Spring

Electronic music producer Steve Aoki may be in the midst of an identity crisis. From festivals in Madrid to clubs in Atlanta, Aoki is a lasting presence on the dance scene, but the man, if anything, is a rockstar.

From behind a heap of jet black hair, Aoki yells, crowd-surfs and pilots inflatable rafts across audiences during his electro house sets, pausing only long enough to steer the show’s momentum from behind his setup.

On Saturday, Aoki will shake up The Fillmore Silver Spring alongside wobble-friendly dubstep producer Datsik for The Deadmeat Tour.

It’s not just Aoki’s high-energy onstage antics that have established him as a DJ with a rock attitude. Hardcore and punk samples like the recently-reformed Refused’s “New Noise” are common over unrelenting waves of bass and synth.

Before his endeavors in electronic music, Aoki was a hardcore musician, regularly hosting and promoting parties while attending the University of California, Santa Barbara.

 Aoki became fixated with electro when it rose to prevalence in the mid-2000s. Established under artists like Justice and MSTRKRFT, Aoki says the philosophy behind the music was reminiscent of hardcore’s evolution in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“[Electro] was like the punk baby of electronic music,” Aoki says. “The ideology was very much ‘We are sovereign, we are not part of this world. We are our own world.’ It was very anarchistic. The ideology seemed to be that way. It didn’t have to say we are anarchistic, it just felt that way in that approach. ... I automatically wanted to define myself with the electro with the electro artist.”

Aoki started out as an electro purist, but his first full-length release, “Wonderland,” released in January, demonstrates a genre-hopping producer who figured out the right recipe for dance floor anthems after cutting his teeth in clubs across the country. Aoki worked on the album for years, but says he was finally committed to completing it in earnest in 2011.

“The album itself chronicles that period of time from ‘08 to 2011 of all the different sounds that influenced me as an artist. It’s diverse,” he says. “There’s some punk background in it, there are progressive songs that I never actually released until this point, there’s obviously dubstep. There’s all these different sounds that are important to me as a DJ.”

Aoki’s curiosity with other genres not only is evident in sound, but by the number of guest appearances on the album. All 13 tracks feature industry names such as Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and Kid Cudi to fellow producers LMFAO. Perhaps the biggest crossover on the album is a track featuring Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo called “Earthquakey People.”
On an album with eternally-caffeinated artists like Lil Jon, it’s hard to imagine how Cuomo’s cool vocal delivery would comfortably translate to a dance track, but giving Weezer an electro facelift is nothing new for Aoki. The two touched base after Cuomo said the producer’s interpretation of “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” was his favorite Weezer remix.

“I was a big fan of Rivers Cuomo since ‘The Blue Album’ [the 1994 album ‘Weezer’], so getting that kind of notice was a big deal and I think that was the door opening for him to work with me,” Aoki says.

Aoki not only has a knack for tracks, but for business, as well. Under his label Dim Mak Records, he has helped launch the careers of artists including Bloc Party since starting the company in 1996. Aoki says he signs acts that are committed to developing a distinct sound. Among the initiated are psytrance-rockers Infected Mushroom and art pop act Fischerspooner.

One of the latest to join the label is Datsik. The two toured together during the Identity Festival in late summer 2011, a roaming festival reminiscent of the model established by the Vans Warped Tour. Aoki says his decision to sign Datsik not only was to help him release his first album this year, but because they worked well together.

 “Relationships mean a lot to me. When I meet someone and they’re doing something unique and I work really well with them, it makes sense.

This is our first dubstep artist on the label and he wants to do something outside of the dubstep community and we want to do something in the dubstep community,” Aoki says.

When it came to releasing his own album, Aoki says several electronic dance artists have abandoned the trend. Top producers such as Avicii and Afrojack have yet to release albums, but still enjoy worldwide success.

“Albums define bands. To define Kings of Leon, they would need to release an album with a few of those songs in there... With Avicii, he just needs to write the next levels and then it’ll redefine his sound again, just from one song. But for me, I come from the rock world so albums are really important to my personal accomplishments.”

With “Wonderland” under his belt, Aoki plans to continue doing what he does best: using electro and house music as the main ingredients for what has become a melting pot of electronic influences.

“I just finished [a song] with [producers] Knife Party,” Aoki says. “That won’t be coming out until later this year, but that’s another new bridge. I’m all about like advancing music by testing out and evolving the sound outside of its form.”

Photo by Dove Shore

Friday, January 27, 2012

More than five cents: Adam Carolla at The Fillmore Silver Spring

Catch Adam Carolla if you can. For a diehard sports fan who spends months out of the year traveling to do standup, it makes sense the always outspoken podcast host also is a vintage racecar driver. When he’s not recording “The Adam Carolla Show” in its Glendale, Calif., studio, Carolla spends his time fixing up old Datsuns, including one owned by the late Paul Newman’s racing partner, for competition.

“The Adam Carolla Show” has taken the man most known for co-hosting “Loveline” and “The Man Show” to new heights — even entering the Guinness Book of World Records as the most downloaded podcast in May 2011. Free of FCC regulations, Carolla improvises through his 90-minute shows, dishing on everything from news to the trials and tribulations of fatherhood. Whether it is about a cast member of “The Jersey Shore” or hotel remote controllers, Carolla has something to say.

The off-the-cuff, unrestrained nature of the show seems like the verbal equivalent of his need to go more than 100 miles per hour on straightaways on tracks such as Laguna Seca.

“I have fun doing it,” Carolla says.”But there’s no cops on the racetrack, which makes it a lot easier.”

While figuring out how to best demount a tire in his shop, Carolla spoke with The Gazette about his two upcoming sets at The Fillmore Silver Spring on Saturday and his future plans for standup.

A&E: As you know this is for the Fillmore show coming up, it’s a new venue in the area.

AC: Yeah, I didn’t know it was new, though.

A&E: It opened up in September. It’s nice. It has the whole red-room look and chandeliers.

AC: That’s good because it’s in my rider [that] I don’t play rooms without ornate lighting.

A&E: I’m sure that’s important when doing standup.

AC: It can’t be done. Listen, I don’t care if you’re Lenny Bruce or Chris Rock, you can’t be funny without super ornate lighting.

A&E: What’s the secret behind ornate lighting?

AC: I’d tell you, but I’d be breaking a certain code amongst comedians.

A&E: When did you get into standup?

AC: I guess I got into it a couple years ago and it sort of seemed like a good way to make money. And honestly at the beginning, I did it more to support the podcast and myself than I did it it was more out of necessity than out of love. There’s more than one answer. One, it’s not like really working. Going to a place, having people applaud and laugh and signing a few autographs after work, it didn’t feel like work to me. The travel part’s a little pain in the [expletive], but you actually get used to that so in an economy when people are looking to find jobs, having this one job of doing standup, it’s hard to complain about. But like I said initially, it was more just to subsidize the podcast, which wasn’t really pulling its own weight or paying for itself. Now the podcast has turned into its business and is doing nicely so the standup will probably be reevaluated a little bit in 2012. There’s that thing of, ‘Hey it’s nice to come out.’ I can go to Burbank Airport out there, hop on a plane and be in Seattle in two hours, sell out the Moore Theatre with 1,900 seats and be back home the next morning with a bunch of cash in my pocket. That’s an easy one. Going to Adison, Texas, and playing a strip mall and doing six shows in the three days, that’s a pain in the [expletive]. I think what we’ll probably do in 2012 is kind of pick and choose the events and the venues and the towns that seem like they fit in nicely with the schedule and basically do what you do when you don’t need to do it.

A&E: For a lot of people, it takes years to develop a style. Does that mean when you started doing standup you just jumped in without knowing how to do it?

AC: Well, yes and no. A couple things that I had going for me.

A&E: You’re no stranger to speaking in public, but standup is sort of its own beast.

AC: It is. But the good news is there’s many different types of standup now. There used to just be for a 90-minute show, [it] would take guys 10 years to put together 90 minutes worth of material, to hone 90 minutes worth of material. My agent handles Jon Stewart and people like that, and when I told him I wanted to start doing these 90-minute standup shows, he said… my agent was saying, “You just can’t walk out on stage and do 90 minutes, it takes years to develop that.” And I, thankfully, had had the experience of doing many college dates with Dr. Drew [of “Loveline”] back in the day, and doing lots of time in front of lots of people on stage — and at least I had that. And my standup is a little bit different in that I go up there and do sort of a PowerPoint presentation of complaining. I do a lot of improv and I do a lot of mixing and matching and some storytelling and that kind of stuff.

A&E: How do you prepare for your standup versus what you do with the podcast?

AC: It used to be much more cut and dried, and I know that maybe because of the Internet or Janeane Garofalo or both, there’s alternatives. For me, I would not even — wouldn’t even call [it standup]. What you’re getting is an evening with Adam Carolla. It’s not so much a 90-minute standup show. It’s some storytelling some motivational speaking, some improv, some jokes, some standup, some visual. I guess a sort of a one-man play, one-man show, but again, more of an evening with me rather than 90 minutes of me.

A&E: The life and times.

AC: Sure, right. I come up there with my stovepipe hat and talk about what it was like to free the slaves.

Photo courtesy ACE Broadcasting